A local councillor is calling for Irish fertility clinics to be regulated and for legislation, after going through her own harrowing fertility journey.
One in six couples worldwide face infertility, and every year the number of people referred to infertility centres increases by 8-9%, according to Fertility Europe.
Leas-Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Deirdre Donnelly, is sharing her story in the hopes to spread awareness about the need for controlled standards among fertility clinics.
Speaking in a heartfelt interview to Dublin Gazette, Cllr Donnelly said when she was trying for a second baby with her husband, they realised there was a problem.
“I have been married for 21 years and have one son [David] who was born in 2004. He is 15 years old and in Transition Year in school locally.
“I was working in RTÉ back in 2003, and went back to UCD to study for an MA on a fulltime basis.
“It was halfway through the first college semester that I found out I was expecting David, which was totally unexpected, but a nice surprise.
“I continued with the studies which were very time-consuming and kept thinking that ‘next time round’ I would do the ‘nice things’ like shopping for baby clothes, pregnancy yoga, etc. Sadly, that never happened.
“It was a few years after David was born that we were trying for ‘No.2’ and I realised that there was a problem.
“My consultant recommended exploratory surgery, and then an appointment with a fertility specialist.
“The first hurdle was getting an appointment with a clinic. This can take months. Treatment in Ireland is only available privately and there is a huge demand.
“I had my first appointment back in 2007, and was put on a prescription drug called Clomid. Each appointment included blood tests and scans and there was a high cost each time.”
Deirdre said she was given “false hope” by an Irish fertility clinic.
“We were told at the first consultation that there was a strong chance that we could have twins and were asked if we were happy with that. We of course were delighted. The assumption all the time was one where we were going to be successful.
“It was after many attempts with medication, self-injections, consultations, blood tests and scans as well as a painful surgery and recovery that I was told that I had only ever had a 3% chance of ever getting pregnant.”
Deirdre shared with us what it was like emotionally during that difficult time, and in the midst of it all, her mum sadly passed away.
“You literally have to put everything on hold. When your treatment involves daily self-injections, your day is based around getting home, or wherever, to the fridge because the injections have to be kept in cold storage.
“Everything comes to a standstill.
“My mum died in August 2009, I look back now and think I was up and down to the clinic all that time, when I could have been with my mum before she died.”
Deirdre feels that counselling should be offered as mandatory, and said: “There were days when I left the clinic in tears on my own and the staff saw the state I was in. Once again, there was no offer of counselling or support.”
Deirdre was told she had “secondary infertility” which she said, “is basically the inability to get pregnant after giving birth at least once previously.”
She added: “People can make comments as well. “Would you not try again?” “Is he not lonely?” “It’s selfish to only have one child.”
During treatment, her husband had to travel within working hours to hand in his identification and sign for “permission” so Deidre could be prescribed medication. On another occasion, she was refused treatment because the blood tests came back on the wrong headed notepaper.
Deirdre said it took her a decade before she could open up about this, and it’s now she is sharing her story in the hopes of seeing the legislation change and fertility clinics regulated.
“It took about 10 years before I could really open up about it. I was upset at the time obviously and the whole experience was draining.
“I was distraught, however, to learn that I had such a low possibility of getting pregnant in the first place. This was never relayed to us.
“I believe that if legislation was brought in, and that all clinics were regulated in the sense that they had the same standards and services, it would be better for all patients.”
Deirdre also highlighted that the cost of treatment is prohibitive to many since it is only available privately, and the cost of the drugs is high, which also needs to be addressed.
She concluded; “Legislation was promised years ago, and it is still not in place. I think that the Taoiseach and Minister for Health are letting the women of Ireland down badly.”
Dublin Gazette have contacted the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for comment but have not yet received a response.